Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Creativity is Key

Don't even get me started on how academic Early Childhood has become! We are required to teach these kids things that were reserved for 1st and 2nd Grade. 20 years ago about one-quarter of students graduating from Kindergarten could read. Now it's expected that 100% of kids are reading, and reading a minimum of 40 words per minute. Many teachers have used that as an excuse to limit their students' creativity. You don't have to paint or sing for a standardized test and I have all these objectives to cover, why would I do an art project? I believe it's important for all children, but especially GT children to learn how to express themselves creatively. We do art projects often-it's tied into the curriculum and usually the kids are required to write about what they have made, but they are given opportunities daily to use their imaginations and invent.

We do many different kinds of self-portraits-using even food and nature. My students make dioramas and trioramas to show what they have learned about rainforests or compare 2 stories. I am always searching for ideas of interesting ways to have the children apply what they've learned. Doing an insect unit last year (and I can't take credit for the idea, a colleague I very much respect and admire came up with the lesson). The students invented their own insects using pasta of all shapes and sizes. I think it was an exciting activity for them and also allowed me to see if they could apply what they had learned-6 legs, 3 body parts and writing about the life cycle.

Creativity is so important, we can't allow it to fall by the wayside. Where will the future inventors, artists and architects of the future come from?

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Not Just Child's Play

So I've been teaching Kindergarteners who have qualified for the label of Gifted and Talented for several years now. It's incredibly rewarding and at the same time incredibly challenging. These children are precocious, inquisitive and very easily bored-so they keep me on my toes!

It's not as easy as it looks! I'm always looking for creative ways to challenge and motivate these special young learners. I will post pics myself of some of the projects we do and regale you with some funny stories that used to be saved for family and friends.

What is Gifted?

Characteristics of GT kids--You can punch those words into a search engine and find many different theories and descriptions.

I adopted a 3-month old German Shepherd from a rescue organization in June. She was cute as a button, great personality, but behaviorally challenged (her shirt says "I'm a lover, not a biter" and I know it's on backwards-I never claimed to be GT myself!). I think I was meant to get her because I don't know very many other people who would have had the patience to really work with her. We're on the 4th trainer now. Anyway, my administrator was familiar with the breed and whenever I complained about my puppy she would tell me-she's not bad, she's just GT and misunderstood. Turns out I think she was right, my puppy loves games that attempt to challenge her mentally and learns things very quickly. She's in agility classes now. My point is that GT kids come in all shapes and sizes. Some children make it obvious with others it's more subtle and it doesn't necessarily mean they won't be challenging to work with behaviorally!

I'm not telling you to enroll your kids in agility classes but I'll tell you what my experience has been pertaining to a definition of GT. Gifted children see patterns in things very easily. They ask thoughtful questions: for example, we did an experiment once melting ice with salt and I had a student ask "what would happen if we used pepper?". I give the kids an activity to do regularly called divergent art-they are given a little squiggle or a shape and need to use their creativity to turn that shape into a picture. I had a student recently take what looked to me like one angel wing and he made it into a hand playing a piano. I have no doubt that child is gifted.

Gifted kids often have a higher spatial ability, grasp of vocabulary and higher level critical thinking skills. However, I did have a student one year named Alicia-who did not know the letter "a" or know how to count past five on the first day of school. Three months later, she was using words like "reflection" in her writing. Some students have never been taught. Given academic opportunities she could apply what she was learning very effectively.

There are also high achievers. Students who succeed very well academically and are often lumped in with gifted children. These kids may be able to read at 4 years old, but don't necessarily have any comprehension. They can study for a test and get a 100% but don't have that natural ability.

If you have gifted students it's so important not to just raise the grade level of their work, but go into the depth of the concepts they are learning. I don't agree with teaching multiplication in Kindergarten. You can do activities with the kids to advance their ability to compose and decompose numbers, that will help them later on down the road. Anyone can memorize facts, but to have a true understanding of certain concepts it's really important to give these kids many different experiences in learning them.